Contrary to expectations, the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League
(IPL), which began on Saturday, did not clash with the election calendar and is being played entirely in India. The global power of this tournament, however, is well established. Not only does every season end with record viewership but India's matches at the upcoming World Cup have been postponed by three days to allow for a recommended 15-day gap between the tournament and the national team’s international fixtures. The IPL
is the prince among T20 tournaments, attracting top global talent, and it has spawned imitations even in non-cricketing countries such as Brazil, Canada and the United States. Powered by moneyed industrial groups, its multiplier effect has been notable on the Indian cricketing scene too, offering a wider platform for aspiring Indian cricketers to ply their trade.
But the tournament has far more potential than that. As of now, the IPL
offers an alternative path — from the well-worn local club-Ranji Trophy hierarchy — to the Indian national team. But the results are not always optimal since the 20-over format demands a very different set of skills and abilities from the One Day International and five-day Tests. For instance, the left-arm quick bowler Rajasthan Royals’ Jaydev Unadkat, who fetched a record $84 million at the last round of the IPL
auctions, has been an indifferent performer for the national team. Now, it may be time for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns the franchise and is responsible for the development of cricket in India, to explore the option of expanding the scope of the IPL in a more meaningful way. Since the IPL has drawn its inspiration from the English Premier League (EPL), the world’s most watched football tournament, it would do well to emulate the footballing structure on which it rests.
As such, the IPL is a limited standalone tournament involving eight teams with revolving squads (player auctions are held each year) that compete with each other each year. The structure of the revenue distribution is also somewhat non-incentivised. In the EPL, half the money earned from the UK broadcasting rights is divided equally among the 20 competing teams and the rest on a diminishing scale, depending on the teams' end-season ranking. International broadcasting fees are shared equally but from the 2019-20 season, the incremental revenue will be dependent on team ranking with a 1.8:1 ratio between the top- and bottom-earning club. This revenue-sharing model, which is considered the most equitable among the continental football leagues, has been a critical reason for the uber-competitiveness and watchability of the EPL, where a minnow like Crystal Palace can defeat expensive, star-studded Manchester City 3-2.
On the other hand, the IPL teams, which get 60 per cent of the broadcasting and sponsorship revenue (with the BCCI taking the rest), share the money equally regardless of their end-season placement. This apart, the EPL operates within the larger footballing eco-system, with the bottom three teams dropping into the first division and the top three teams in the first division being promoted into the premier league. This promotion and relegation cycle operates down to the second division, offering team owners, players and supporters a genuine aspirational sporting paradigm, making football a dynamic industry in England, with all its multiplier effects on the local economy. It is well within the scope for the cash-rich BCCI to create a specialist T20 tournament hierarchy with more teams that compete in one season to decide the tiers for future divisions within the promotion-and-relegation dynamic.
The purists may well deplore this focus on “instant cricket” but judging by the way this format is spreading around the world, there is no reason for India not to be the proud owner of a truly dynamic cricketing business.